Green Building in Cold Climates: Interview with Bernat and Kate of Maison Durable Portneuf

Categories: Homes / Dwellings


This is an interview originally done by Strawbale construction is a sustainable way to build homes. The houses are sound, beautiful, energy efficient and easy to build. Here is the full interveiw, but for the original article follow the link at the bottom of the page.

We’ve seen many examples of how well green buildings can work in temperate and warm climates, but what about the harsher conditions that can lash homes in rural Quebec? Inhabitat recently had the opportunity to interview Bernat Ferragut and Kate Alvo of Maison Durable Portneuf about the innovative techniques they used to create their eco-friendly, sustainable, elegant home in the woods of Portneuf, Quebec, and how they can help others do the same.

How did you get involved in this building project?

It was complete chance that led us there, actually. While on a visit to the Portneuf region, we found a parcel of land that no one else wanted. It was originally listed as agricultural land but it was deemed un-useful for agricultural exploitation, since it was on a slope and was rather small for conventional farming. It had been re-slotted for residential development, so we bought it, planning to do a bit of both with it.

We purchased the land in 2010, and started on plans in January of 2011. Building began in April.

Did you two have previous building experience?

Kate: I did, yes. I had done some work on my dad’s house as an opportunity to delve into a project with him, and that was my first real dip into building. Having enjoyed the process, I looked into pursuing an education in sustainable architecture or sustainable building, but I really didn’t find any programs in that field.

Finally, in 2009, I found an amazing sustainable building course taught by Chris (who now runs a school called The Endeavor Centre), and took a five-month intensive program there that combined theoretical design with hands-on experience. 

What challenges had to be navigated in terms of building to withstand the extreme temperatures that Quebec can experience?

Well, building in Quebec has a lot of challenges, but natural building is particularly tricky. It rains often here, so this kind of building technique requires really heavy-duty tarps everywhere to keep the straw dry during the building process. These tarps are also needed until the built walls are thoroughly plastered over as well, and since the tarps need to be of the highest, thickest grade, that’s a lot of money put towards materials that’ll just end up in landfills after several months of exposure to the elements.

Building our own home was a great learning experience, and from now on, all the walls we work with will be built indoors so they’re protected from the weather, so there’s no need to waste tarps. Pre-fabricated walls can be mounted in a day with low labour and significant ease, which eliminates a lot of headaches. We now run a business in which we act as distributors for these pre-fab walls, and since we have firsthand experience that they work amazingly well, we can reassure my customers that they’re a great, sustainable option for the Quebec climate.

Are there other benefits to using these pre-fabricated straw bale walls?

The main additional benefit is that they really do look like any other walls, so contractors don’t have to learn how to work with materials that are totally alien to them. There’s nothing new to learn, no special techniques to employ: these look and work like all the other prefabricated walls they’ve worked with before. In addition, they come ready for finishing, so the additional labour costs usually associated with prefab walls are eliminated.

They’re a perfect crossover product that brings eco-conscious building options to standard contractors. You can find more information about the product at

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